Does Pain Increase the Incidence of Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease and Stroke?

Medical News Today’s recent article entitled “Does chronic pain raise the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or stroke?” reports that the study looked at data from 2,464 participants of the Framingham Offspring Study Cohort, who underwent examination by health practitioners between 1990 and 1994.

A study at Chongqing Medical University in China found patients who reported widespread pain had an increased incidence of dementia and stroke. Researchers Dr. Kanran Wang and Dr. Hong Liu found this increased risk to be independent of factors, such as age, health, or sociodemographic factors.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems defines widespread chronic pain as pain in at least four of five body regions. It’s a common symptom of fibromyalgia.

Previous research found that those who report experiencing widespread pain have an increased risk of a cardiovascular cause of death, as well as an increased incidence of cancer and reduced cancer survival. However, the researchers think this is the first study to use a detailed review of medical records and autopsies to consider whether there’s an association between widespread pain, dementia and stroke.

For the study, the researchers looked data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS). This is a large cohort study that began in 1948, with 5,209 white men and women between the ages of 30 and 62 years from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The original purpose of the study was to understand heart disease better. It’s now studying its third generation of participants. The FHS encompasses more than 15,000 participants. The Chongqing Medical University researchers examined about 2,464 participants between 1990 and 1994.

The participants also underwent laboratory tests and completed a questionnaire to see if they experienced pain. Of the participants, 347 reported experiencing widespread pain. The researchers found that these participants experienced:

  • a 43% higher risk for all-cause dementia
  • a 47% higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease; and
  • a 29% higher risk of stroke.

The researchers gave three hypotheses for why individuals experiencing widespread pain might have an increased risk of developing dementia or having a stroke: (i) it could relate to lifestyle factors associated with experiencing chronic pain; (ii) widespread pain could directly compete for resources in the brain that handle cognitive processing; and (iii) widespread pain could be a preclinical phase of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, the observational nature of the study prevents the researchers from establishing the underlying mechanisms behind the increase in risk. They also said that with small numbers of stroke and dementia, the relationship is likely to be due to more than one factor.

Reference: Medical News Today (Aug. 23, 2021) “Does chronic pain raise the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or stroke?”